Rare Rides: 1986 London Coach Sterling Limousine - Formality and Finery

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

Today’s Rare Ride hails from beyond the normal reaches of even astute car enthusiasts’ knowledge base. It was the brainchild of some British executives who were convinced there was a market for the classic London Taxi in the United States. In addition to standard taxis, the company offered one that was thoroughly luxed and broughamed.

I’m just not sure.

First, the basics. The white elephant we see here is a 1986 London Coach Sterling limousine, built especially for the left-hand-drive U.S. market. The company seemed to practice the British tradition of adding the name “Sterling” to something domestic, and then selling it across the Atlantic to eager Americans.

The London Coach Company came into existence in 1984, after its British parent saw the market vacancy left by the Checker Cab Company after its 1982 closure.

The number of U.S.-spec examples built by the London Coach Company is an item of dispute. While various sources argue between 50 and 100 cars were produced, today’s listing cites 75 as the figure reported to the NHTSA.

All Sterlings were built in 1985 or ’86 by a company called Carbodies Limited in Coventry, England. The Coventry factory made complete vehicle kits that were shipped to London Coach in the United States for completion.

The Sterling was available in either standard Taxi, or a luxury Limousine version like our example. Exterior and interior components were an assortment of things London Coach purchased from a bin outside a British Leyland factory somewhere in the Midlands. What didn’t come from BL was the engine — a Ford 2.3-liter four-cylinder from a British Ford Escort (or an American Ford Pinto).

Limousine versions pulled out all the stops, as we see here. Extensive legroom and fine wood cabinetry matched with velour upholstery, cosseting passengers on their way to a Halloween party or perhaps a British-themed Midwestern hotel and spa. The driver fared less well than back seat guests, with haphazard dials and switches placed wherever room was available (his screams of dismay no doubt muted entirely by the drive-thru window behind his head).

No matter, these Sterling offerings were not to be. You see, a different Sterling name was just arriving in the North American market, one owned by Austin-Rover Cars of North America (ARCONA). The Honda-derived and British-meddled 825 and 827 were ready, and the company exerted pressure on London Coach to stop usage of the Sterling name.

It seems unlikely this request for a name change would’ve spelled the end of the company, but nevertheless, it was finished after just 75 cars. Today’s example is located in the urbane and crime-free paradise of Baltimore. With a bit of wear and 16,000 miles on the Smiths-built odometer, it asks $25,000.

[Images: seller]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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3 of 19 comments
  • NeilM NeilM on Apr 26, 2018

    Sort of a fun 80's custom throwback...until you get to the vinyl roof and the third window, which looks like a padded toilet seat.

  • Arthur Dailey Arthur Dailey on Apr 26, 2018

    Really do not think that they thought this through. A Pinto engine and a shifter that also looks like it came from a Pinto? A 'wood' cabinet in the back that looks like some kid's shop class project. At least it has suicide doors.

    • ToddAtlasF1 ToddAtlasF1 on Apr 27, 2018

      There are still people who covet other countries' follies. The target market was well-traveled anglophiles who thought London taxis were everything refined and wonderful and counter to the filthy vulgarity of NYC taxis of the era. These were for the sort of people who think the government works wonders when it elevates everyday things to being luxuries for the wealthy and reminds the working class that they are serfs who exist at the gentry's discretion.

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